Each year thousands of lovelorn women flock to Verona Italy the hometown of Shakespeare’s Juliet to solicit romantic advice from the tragic heroine. They deposit their pleading letters on a wall near the balcony where Romeo supposedly made his famous late-night visit and if they’re lucky receive a reply from one of Juliet’s crew of officially appointed ghostwriters known as the Secretaries of Juliet.
In Gary Winnick's Letters to Juliet young Sophie (the irresistible Amanda Seyfried) while working on a sort of temp assignment with the Secretaries winds up leading an elderly British widow (Vanessa Redgrave) on a quest to reunite her with the Italian boyfriend she abruptly — and regretfully — jilted nearly 50 years prior. It’s a contrived and far-fetched scenario to be sure but no more so than your average Hollywood rom-com and this one at least carries the pleasant side benefit of allowing the filmmakers to set most of the action in picturesque Verona where Seyfried and Redgrave traverse the countryside on their quixotic endeavor.
The charming mother-daughter dynamic that forms between Seyfried’s doe-eyed do-gooder and Redgrave’s wistful grandma carries Letters to Juliet and make its preposterous and unapologetically schmaltzy plot palpable. But their efforts are largely sabotaged by the mediocre men of Juliet Gael Garcia Bernal (Babel The Motorcycle Diaries) and Christopher Egan (Eragon TV's Kings).
The usually terrific Garcia Bernal is really more of a prop than a character in this film. As Seyfried’s future ex-fiance an ADD-addled restaurateur too preoccupied with procuring ingredients for his new menu to tend to his relationship he replays the same scene over and over as if in some sort of Twilight Zone sketch. His intended replacement played by Egan is an insufferable twit we’re meant to believe is some sort of hot-shot human rights lawyer back in his native England — a detail I wouldn’t believe if he held up his law school degree to the camera for us to see.
Equally incredulous is the romantic subplot that develops between him and Seyfried and when the story shifts to them the film rapidly loses steam. Male characters will always play second fiddle in a chick flick — even one written and directed by men — but in Letters to Juliet they’re almost an afterthought seemingly tossed in late in the game to bolster the film’s appeal to young female moviegoers. In the end even someone as talented as Seyfried can’t effectively sell us on her character's eventual pair-up with Egan’s whiny doofus no matter how loudly the Taylor Swift soundtrack presses her case.
Mel Gibson's got a new movie in town and its called The Captain and the Shark. No, it's not a film about a wacky sea captain and his pet shark. It's the very real account of the USS Indianapolis, the WWII cruiser that covertly transported the atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The ship was hit in 1945 by Japanese torpedoes and sank in the Pacific, but because the operation was so secretive, a rescue was delayed and many men died by shark attacks while waiting for one. We all remember the chilling account Robert Shaw's character Quint gave in Jaws about this very thing. Honestly, who thinks up these titles? Is there a collective hat somewhere? Gibson is in negotiations to star as Capt. Charles McVay, whom the Navy made a scapegoat for its mistakes, including ignoring distress signals. McVay was court-martialed and eventually committed suicide in 1968 but was recently exonerated by the Navy. Barry Levinson will direct the film for Warner Bros. So, you can see, this is serious stuff and has the makings of a great movie. But somehow, somewhere, a studio development exec will have to realize that this title has got to go.
Winona has a "Secret"
Lovely Winona Ryder will don a British accent once again in the British romantic comedy Lily and The Secret Planting, a follow-up feature for director Hettie Macdonald, who brought us Beautiful Thing in 1996. Ryder will play a young woman taking care of her mother who falls in love with an Australian working at the local plant nursery. There could be some interesting possibilities as far as leading men are concerned--there's Aussies Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger...maybe Russell Crowe. Yeah, right. Well, whoever stars opposite the actress, let's hope there's at least a little chemistry between them because Ryder hasn't shown much with her leading men lately. Autumn in New York with Richard Gere? Enough said. Production starts in London at the end of the month.
Soderbergh's "sex" lives on
Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh has decided to return to his roots. He will re-team with Miramax Films to bring us How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire, a sequel of sorts to his brilliant sex, lies and videotape. Yes, it's true. Soderbergh wants to revisit those dark, sexy and funny characters who fumble about, trying to figure out what to do with themselves--and I can't wait. There's not much yet on what the film is about or whether Graham (James Spader), Ann (Andie MacDowell), Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) or John (Peter Gallagher) will return. But Soderbergh said in a statement, "I'm extremely happy to be working with Miramax on How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire because Harvey Weinstein and I have been apart too long and the film was always envisioned as the unofficial sequel to sex, lies and videotape." sex, you'll remember, basically started the American independent movement in 1989, putting the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films on the map and winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes. No pressure or anything, Steven. Promise. Soderbergh is currently in post-production on his eagerly awaited remake of Ocean's 11 and will most likely start on this soon after.
Actor Paul Walker is indeed Fast and Furious. Hot off his hit racing film, the young hunk seems to be sought after. First, there's the mob drama Wanna-Be I mentioned last week and now--SWAT. Forgive me for rolling my eyes once again, but do any of the studio development execs have a clue? It's apparent that whatever amount of action they can shove on the screen, the better, and a film about the Special Weapons and Tactics team seems just about right. This project, based on the 1970s cop series, has been long in development. The premise centers on a grizzled vet SWAT officer who is given a second chance to assemble a new SWAT team to protect a high-profile criminal. OK, now I get why it's taken so long. The project was originally an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, but has turned into a youth-oriented action movie. Don't feel too bad, Arnold, you really don't need another bad action movie under your belt.
Beam us up--again and again
Star Trek live and breathes once again--now in its 10th installment. The film, as yet untitled, will be directed by Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshals, Executive Decision) and will re-team Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner as Data, for now. No word on whether any of the other cast members will join them. Veteran Rick Berman will produce for Paramount Pictures once again but the film has yet to be greenlighted. Wow, this is one franchise that certainly has enough legs to never get boring. Considered one of the most successful series in entertainment history, the Star Trek movies have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office worldwide and more than $5 billion from ancillaries such as merchandising and home video. Make it so, No. 1.
Banderas and Liu--the new Terminators?
How does a movie about two Terminator-like undercover agents who look like Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu sound? OK, I like both of them...I'm going with it. The good-looking stars are in negotiations to star in Ecks vs. Sever (another title for the annals), a futuristic tale about two undercover agents, Ecks (Banderas) and Sever (Liu), who apparently have robotic attributes. They think they are enemies but in reality share the same common enemy. What's that? A rusting agent? This one definitely sounds promising, all kidding aside, as its being described as Bad Boys meets The Professional. And Banderas and Liu have been together before in the 1999 Playing It to the Bone-but most of you won't remember that fact. I certainly didn't. Ecks vs. Sever is being produced by Chris Lee (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) and marks the North American feature directorial debut of Thai filmmaker Kaos.
Ah, the blaxploitation craze rears its ugly head again. First there was John Singleton's Shaft, an updated version of the Richard Roundtree cult classic with Samuel L. Jackson and now, Dolemite, revamped for rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J and Dimension Films. In this modernized version, LL Cool J plays a hip entrepreneur who is sent to jail when drugs are found at his swinging nightclub. When released on parole, he finds out that his rival planted those drugs and has now taken over his club. Dolemite goes into revenge mode with the help of his three female friends, who manage to wipe the place up with their butt-kicking skills. Hmmm, a Charlie's Angels-esque quality. Maybe they could get the gals from Destiny's Child to do it. The original Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore, who is now doing standup, will advise and play a role.